Northwest Suburban High School District 214 students have wielded electric saws and hammered nails to build more than 20 single-family homes from scratch through a hands-on, real-world learning experience that's been part of the district curriculum the last 34 years.
But the latest student-led project, a home in the Scarsdale neighborhood of Arlington Heights, presented a unique challenge because it was the first "flip" undertaken in the history of the district's Practical Architectural Construction program.
What was constructed in 1953 as a single-family colonial home at the corner of Dryden Place and Fairview Street is virtually unrecognizable now that extensive renovations and additions to the east and west sides of the building have been completed.
Over the course of the last two years, students from all six District 214 high schools spent almost two hours every school day on the job site to complete the remodel, in what is a capstone elective course for juniors and seniors.
It's of particular interest to those who want to pursue a career in the building trades, and why the instructors try to make the experience as realistic as possible.
"We run it like that," said Marc Sears, the construction program's instructor for the last dozen years. "We're building soft skills: Are you on time? Are you prepared? We want them to have those skills when they graduate here."
Until the Dryden house, District 214 officials had always been on the lookout to buy open land on which a house could be built, as long as the property was within the district's boundaries. But they say lately it's been harder to find vacant residential parcels in the market.
And there's more and more work in the home remodel and renovation business, they say, which makes such flipping projects even more valuable to students.
Before students donned hard hats and safety glasses at the Arlington Heights house, those taking architectural design courses at each of the district's schools sketched blueprints using computer software and submitted their designs to a districtwide competition in 2017. A panel, which included two sisters who grew up in the house on Dryden, selected Wheeling High School's proposed remodel.
The design included the two additions, a complete reconfiguration of the second floor, a bedroom added to the first floor, and a new detached garage.
Then the real sweat equity began. Student workers knocked down drywall, tore out old cabinets and removed existing mechanicals.
In the process, they encountered some difficulties, like taking out the old windows, which were set in steel frames and exterior brick work.
"It should take 10 minutes, but it took the entire class period," said Wheeling High School Associate Principal Dan Weidner. "That is the reality of this work."
But Weidner, who oversaw the architecture/construction program until last school year as the district's director of academic programs and pathways, put a positive spin on it all.
He called those construction difficulties "high-quality learning experiences" for students.
Along the way, a dozen subcontractors came in to do some of the bigger jobs -- like pouring concrete for the small additions on both sides of the old house, and installing the new plumbing, electric, and heating and cooling systems.
Students handled the finishing touches, like the doors, windows, cabinets, countertops, electrical and plumbing fixtures, tile and flooring.
In 2½ years since the project kicked off, about 100 students had some role, from the design to construction, along with media students, who filmed and conducted interviews on site to produce a 10-minute documentary.
The 4-bedroom, 3½-bath house is now on the market for $579,900. The district is using Berkshire Hathaway Starck Real Estate to list the property. Proceeds from a sale are reinvested to purchase other properties and keep the construction program going, district officials say.
Students already are working on their next project: a gut and rehab of a one-story ranch in Prospect Heights. And they just finished design work for a second-story addition on an original 1950s Rolling Meadows home.